2023 Best & Brightest MBA: Ryan Spencer Cox, University of Virginia (Darden)

Ryan Spencer Cox

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business

“An energetic learner who is passionate about applying the power of technology to businesses.”

Hometown: Charlottesville, Virginia

Fun fact about yourself: I took a punch from the GOAT himself, Muhammed Ali!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Duke University – B.S. Mechanical Engineering, University of Virginia – M.S. in Data Science

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Senior Software Development Consultant, CapTech Consulting – Richmond, Virginia

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? Associate Intern, McKinsey and Company – Charlotte, North Carolina

Where will you be working after graduation? Associate, McKinsey and Company – Charlotte, North Carolina

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: President of Community Consultants of Darden; William Michael Shermet Award Winner; Darden Future Year Scholar; MBA/MSDS Dual Degree Admissions Ambassador; Computers 4 Kids Mentor (Charlottesville non-profit connecting under-resourced youth with technology)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Winning the William Michael Shermet Award was a great honor. To be recognized by the Darden faculty for demonstrating academic excellence in the top 5% of the class was exceptionally meaningful. I love to learn so having my professors present the award meant the world to me.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? After working for a year at my previous employer, I was put in charge of a project as the technical lead. I managed engineers and multiple client relationships as we worked towards delivering a digital product. To have my mentors at CapTech trust me with that responsibility at a young age was motivating and it allowed me to grow as a leader and communicator. The digital product we built was exciting, but the best part was delivering on my responsibility to my team and my mentors.

Why did you choose this business school? Having the opportunity to build profound relationships with faculty is something I have always valued academically. I knew Darden’s professors were second-to-none, but I choose Darden because of the faculty’s dedication to the students. Professors regularly have coffee with students, free their calendars to provide advice, and attend student functions. Their commitment to building the best community possible is what convinced me that I would get a collaborative academic experience at Darden.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Michael Schill. I was lucky enough to have Professor Schill for four courses during my two years. He came to class passionate and ready to explain complicated financial topics in easy-to-understand terms. Professor Schill’s dedication to his students was unparalleled. He sparked my interest in the intersection of finance and technology and has been a tremendous mentor outside of class as well. Plus, he teaches the most exciting class at Darden – “Financial Trading!”

What was your favorite course as an MBA? Data Science in Business. Part of me is still a software developer and I loved seeing how cutting-edge data science techniques could be applied to business contexts. Technical decisions have tremendous impact on business value. This class used numerous competitions to examine these benefits in practice. Connecting my masters in data science and my MBA also felt like a seminal moment in my career.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I wish I had gone on a Darden Worldwide Course (DWC) after my first year. DWC is a tremendous opportunity to learn with your classmates outside of Charlottesville. The experiences my classmates had and the reverence with which they discuss their trips to Morocco, Italy, and many more make me regret missing this awesome opportunity. My advice: every Darden student should do a DWC.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Darden is ALL reading cases. 100 case party? Drag Show? Darden Cup? Darden is academically rigorous, but we also know how to have a great time. Just ask my fellow MSDS/MBA dual degrees – we went as Data Miners to the Halloween party and barely saw each other amidst the 400 people in attendance.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? Outdoor activities. Charlottesville is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains so there are tremendous opportunities to hike, bike, run and/or visit vineyards.

What surprised you the most about business school? As odd as this may sound, I was surprised by how entertaining the classroom was. I knew the social events would be lively, but I did not count on my professors and classmates making discussions serious, meaningful AND engaging.

Engineering school was great, but it was mostly professors at a blackboard. Darden is ALWAYS a discussion. This brings comedy, deep emotion, and professionalism in a unique balance. The case method delivers a fantastic in-class environment and a great opportunity to learn from your peers’ backgrounds.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? Darden really values a person being genuine. The community is built on people from   diverse backgrounds being true to themselves and adding unique perspectives. I think I have a   good sense of my strengths, weaknesses, and what I am hoping to accomplish in life. I try to stay as true to myself as possible. In my application, I made it incredibly transparent that I love to learn.

Being in the classroom means a lot to me and I show up to class every day as excited to learn as I was the day before.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Britanny Biggs. Britanny is one of the most gifted communicators I have ever met. Not only is she incredibly thoughtful and bright, she has an unparalleled ability to connect with people from different backgrounds. Britanny is a true bridge builder and someone whose combination of leadership abilities and intelligence will put her at the top of a Fortune 500 one day.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

1. I think a lot about how my access to technology early in life shaped my entire career trajectory. I would love to develop data science and AI learning material for under- resourced youth to foster that same love of learning. Hopefully, this could build the next generation of tech leaders.

2. When I go out for my long runs, I love listening to “How I Built This” and “Wisdom from the Top” with Guy Raz. Both podcasts highlight innovative founders and business leaders. To be a guest on either show would be a dream come true (and give me a chance to listen to myself on 1.5x speed).

What made Ryan such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“In any classroom, Ryan Cox is quickly recognized by all as the smartest student in the room. But he’s not a show-off kind of smart, rather he is the kind of smart that comes from being deeply interested in and curious about the world around him. He thinks deeply about business and other topics and has a strong interest and willingness to figure things out. In any setting, Ryan tends to be one step ahead of the rest in analyzing and appreciating the subtleties and relevance of any topic. He’s the kind of person with whom you really look forward to after-class follow up discussions. Ryan is also a bright light for others. He raises the understanding and engagement of anyone around him. He is an absolute pleasure to associate with. Ryan Cox is the best and the brightest of Darden’s Class of 2023.”

Darden Professor Michael Schill


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.